There’s No “I” in T-E-A-M: The Secrets To High-Performing Teams.

As we all know, business, especially the ad business, is a team sport. The best soloist in the world can’t win on his or her own. And the success of the business largely depends on how these teams function and work together, productively and successfully. People can always accomplish more together than as individuals – theoretically, at least.

But we’ve all worked on teams that performed poorly, inefficiently, or dysfunctionally. That felt hobbled, divided, erratic. Where the inter-relationships between team members created obstacles. When teams function like this, the amount of waste and disappointment they create is staggering. On the other hand, we have all likely worked on teams that felt like dream teams – smoothly, seamlessly generating ideas, developing output, making good things happen.

I’ve had a few memorable team experiences through the years like this. I call them “Jerry Maguire” teams, because of the “you complete me” feeling of them. One team member seems to bleed into the next, picking up where the other left off, almost finishing each other’s sentences. The different members can fill in for each other when another isn’t there. And titles are irrelevant or unnecessary. I remember a few new business pitches where the work was presented so collaboratively that the client wasn’t even sure our roles – which one is the copywriter? Are you the account guy? Who is the strategic planner? To me, this is a sign of great success.

So what makes teams function effectively? How can you drive this type of productivity and efficiency? These are the 5 characteristic of “Jerry Maguire” teams:

There are clear goals
It’s a given that a team needs clarity of purpose and measureable objectives. And every member needs to be dialed-in on and accountable to them, making sure all efforts are designed to achieve a successful delivery of them. When members have different views on success, or, worse, competing agendas, the train runs off the rails.

But I’ve found that there are also intangible goals that great teammates share – e.g. the goal of developing great work. The goal of constantly learning and improving. The goal of demanding the best out of yourselves. When these goals are shared, the sky’s the limit.

Equally important is that each team member similarly feels accountable to each other. Success is everyone’s success, and failure is everyone’s failure. It’s hard to measure, and harder still to teach, but individuals need to feel bound to their team and teammates and a part of something bigger than just “work” and themselves. Team members who don’t feel responsible to the others will undermine the commitment of rest of the team.

Size matters
Contrary to popular belief, bigger is not always better. And on teams, it’s usually the opposite that is the case. I once worked as a consultant on a new business pitch for a well-known agency on Madison Avenue. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that there were over 50 people in the briefing. Coordinating all those people throughout the process was impossible – so naturally, the pitch was fragmented, and less than successful.

Where innovation and creativity matter, small teams are the way to go. In fact, many companies are taking an almost “skunk works” approach to teams. Smaller is nimbler, faster and more agile – all critically important when it comes to today’s creativity.

Trust and respect
A necessary prerequisite for successful team functioning is mutual respect. Each team member must respect each other – their capabilities, responsibilities and views. Having mutual respect allows lots of positive things to happen. First, the team will put trust in each other – trust that each person will pull their weight, do the right thing, and their ideas and decisions will be driven by the greater good.

This then will lead all members to expect the best of each other, vs. expecting the worst, which so often can be the case. The power of this can’t be understated – it allows the team to focus on actual work and team goals, and not self-preservation or personal agendas.

“Always on” communications
It’s critical that teams have seamless communications – constantly sharing updates, news, follow-ups, etc. Any hiccup in this basic type of communication will slow down – or even break down – the flow of work. A good team will send communications to teammates as almost second-nature. There’s almost no chance of being out of the loop.

However, there’s another, more important aspect of good communication for these teams. There’s an expectation that partners will speak their minds and express their own viewpoints, freely and openly, without fear of being ridiculed. That being said, after a point is discussed or debated, the team will agree to move in one direction, united.

What are your experiences with teams? Have any other characteristics you can share?


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